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    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/24/ny...l?ref=nyregion
    M.T.A. Says It Plans to Seek a Second Fare Increase, This One in 2011

    By RAY RIVERA
    Published: July 24, 2008

    As bad as the news coming out of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been lately, it got a little worse on Wednesday. The authority, which had already announced plans to raise fares and tolls in July 2009, now says it wants to increase them again in early 2011.

    The proposed increases, which have come under sharp criticism by the mayor and governor, were included in the authority’s 2009 preliminary budget, which authority officials unveiled during a contentious two-hour board meeting at their Midtown headquarters. The agency’s 17-member board must vote on the plan by December.

    How much transit fares and bridge and tunnel tolls would rise will not be determined until the final plan is approved. The authority is seeking to increase revenues from those sources by 8 percent next July, and an additional 5 percent in early 2011. Fares and tolls were also raised in March, meaning that the new plan would lead to three fare and toll increases in about three years.

    At the same time, authority officials made clear that the budget proposal could be altered significantly based on the recommendations of a committee appointed by the governor to study the authority’s finances. The committee, headed by Richard Ravitch, a former chairman of the authority’s board, is expected to release its recommendations by early December.

    Speaking before a packed hearing room, authority officials made no attempt to conceal what they consider to be the agency’s worst fiscal situation since the economic downturn that followed 9/11. When fares went up in March, the authority’s plan was not to have another fare increase until January 2010, with future increases every two years thereafter.

    That schedule has now been moved forward — by six months for the initial increase and by a year for the future increases.

    Elliot G. Sander, the authority’s executive director, portrayed the proposed increases as painful and unpopular but necessary to offset rising fuel costs and declining real estate revenues. The authority is also struggling to pay interest on billions in debt accumulated since the 1980s for equipment upgrades. That debt service has mushroomed since the 2000 capital plan from a few hundred million a year to a projected $2 billion a year by 2012 — about a fifth of the agency’s budget.

    By law, the agency must present a balanced budget and is seeking to close a gap of nearly $900 million.

    “While this action is clearly difficult,” Mr. Sander said, “if we were to forgo any fare and toll adjustment, the alternative would necessitate deep and damaging service reductions, or even higher than proposed contributions from our funding partners.”

    The plan calls for the second fare and toll increase to take effect in January 2011. But authority officials said that it might be later that year.

    Coming on the heels of new statistics showing a 24 percent increase in subway delays, the proposal to raise fares has infuriated many riders.

    H. Dale Hemmerdinger, chairman of the authority’s board, expressed sympathy with the riders yesterday but said, “We have to deal with reality as it is.”

    The authority is seeking $300 million in additional aid from the city and the state to help close its shortfall. That request includes $104 million to fully pay the cost of providing bus and subway service to schoolchildren and seniors. The city and state now pay half of those costs, a share that has not increased in more than a decade, officials said.

    State and city elected officials have signaled strong resistance to providing the extra money, instead telling the authority to cut its costs. At the same time, they have also come out strongly against increasing fares.

    On Tuesday, Gov. David A. Paterson told the agency to “go back and take another look at their books.” And Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the city, which is facing its own fiscal crunch, does not have extra money for the authority. He also expressed disbelief that an agency with a $10 billion budget could not find more ways to cut without resorting to fare increases.

    “That’s just poor management,” the mayor said.

    Mr. Sander said on Wednesday that the mayor might not be aware of previous cuts the agency had taken and pointed to an additional 6 percent the agency was planning to shave over the next four years. “To try to cut 5 percent in one year would be extremely difficult without impacting service,” he said. But he appeared to hedge when asked if he would aggressively press City Hall and Albany for additional financing.

    “We are cognizant of what the mayor says, that the city doesn’t have any money; we are cognizant of what the governor has said, and I think that is why the Ravitch commission is so important,” Mr. Sander said.

    At least a dozen people in the audience at Wednesday’s board meeting brandished signs that read: “Mayor Bloomberg: Help the Riders” and “Governor Paterson: Help the Riders.”

    Several board members dissented on the staff’s budget plan, saying that despite spending reductions proposed by the authority’s leadership, deeper cuts should be made before asking riders to pay more. Some argued those reductions could be made without affecting service.

    Andrew M. Saul, a board member who represents Westchester County, urged lawmakers to re-examine legislation that he said would restructure the authority and streamline its operations.

    “There needs to be fundamental changes in the way this place operates,” he said. “And until you do that, you’re going to have fare increase after fare increase.”

    Other board members said immediate cuts were needed.

    “Before we go out and ask for fares and ask for money, we also need to make sure that we find every dollar within this organization,” said Jeffrey A. Kay, who oversees municipal operations at City Hall and is one of four representatives of the mayor on the board.

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    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/26/ny...l?ref=nyregion
    M.T.A. and Its Debt, and How They Got That Way

    By RAY RIVERA
    Published: July 26, 2008



    When Richard Ravitch was named chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1979, he inherited a subway system in decay. Trains derailed or collided on average every 15 days. Stations were filthy and crime was rampant. Ridership sank to lows not seen since World War I.

    To revive the system, Mr. Ravitch, a former construction executive, persuaded lawmakers to allow the authority to do what countless cities and states had long done to build and maintain their infrastructure: Issue bonds.

    “The system was falling apart, and the only way I could get the money to rebuild it was to borrow it,” Mr. Ravitch said in a recent interview.

    Nearly 30 years later, the system is by all accounts better. But the authority’s debt has ballooned, and like stressed homeowners across the country, the system is groaning under the pressure to repay it. Indeed, debt payments are the system’s largest single cost after payroll, and by 2012 they will account for one of every five dollars the authority spends.

    Until recently, the authority was flush with tax revenue from the booming real estate market and had no trouble paying for its borrowing. But the market is down now, fuel costs are way up, and the debt is crushing. More than any other reason, that is why the authority, after raising fares in March, wants to do it again twice more in the coming three years.

    The problems facing the agency now are no surprise. Independent analysts and the agency’s own financial planners have warned of rising debt costs for years — most loudly and urgently after a huge debt restructuring in 2000.

    Called at the time the largest deal in the history of American municipal finance, the refinancing — taking advantage of lower interest rates — led to lower debt payments. The agency, facing political resistance to fare increases and new taxes, decided to sell new bonds to finance the system’s first major expansion since the 1930s. In a few short years, the debt burden it had amassed over nearly 20 years had doubled.

    “The principal goal was to reduce the short-run debt service and push it off until later,” said Charles M. Brecher, research director of the Citizens Budget Commission and a professor of public policy at the Wagner School at New York University. “That’s what’s coming home to roost now.”

    As the state once again looks for solutions for the struggling authority, it has come full circle, once again turning to Mr. Ravitch.

    In April, Gov. David A. Paterson appointed Mr. Ravitch to lead a commission of finance and transportation experts to find answers to the authority’s monetary straits. Its report is due by December.

    In 1979, it was Gov. Hugh L. Carey who came calling. At the time, the subway was suffering under decades of neglect. The city was just beginning to emerge from a fiscal crisis that had brought it to the brink of bankruptcy.

    Money for capital improvements hovered around $50 million — not the billions Mr. Ravitch and his analysts knew it would take. So he went to Albany.

    “The Legislature squawked,” recalled Mr. Ravitch, 75. “They said that will result in a fare increase, and I said ‘That’s absolutely correct.’ But I said it will also result in an improvement in the system and attract more riders and avoid the dysfunctionality in the system, and they were persuaded.”

    The law passed in 1981, and the next year the authority issued its first bonds, totaling $350 million.

    The authority issued hundreds of millions of dollars in new debt over the next 20 years, nearly all of it going toward new stainless steel cars and buses, and track repairs, signal replacements and other system improvements. By 2000, the agency’s outstanding debt had reached $12 billion.

    At the same time, though, the city and state were contributing less toward the authority’s capital budget. According to data provided by the authority, 26 percent of capital plans from 1989 to 1991, totaling $15.4 billion, came from the city and the state. In addition, 32 percent came from the federal government, and the rest from bonds and other transportation authority sources.

    From 1992 to 1999, as its capital budgets grew, the agency’s reliance on debt increased. The federal share of those capital budgets remained at about a third, but the city and state shares fell to 9 percent.

    In late 1999, the agency began laying the groundwork for a major restructuring of its outstanding debt. The plan, which called for refinancing all $12 billion of the debt, was recommended and structured by the former Wall Street investment giant Bear Stearns, which eventually got a large share of the underwriting duties worth tens of millions of dollars.

    Critics said the plan was unsound, and unduly influenced by Bear Stearns.

    Current and former authority officials who were involved in the deal, including Marc V. Shaw, the agency’s executive director at the time, say they had little choice. Voters rejected the Transportation Bond Act of 2000, which would have sent $1.6 billion to the authority. And fares had not risen since George E. Pataki became governor in 1995.

    “Politicians make choices, and at the time they made a determination that it would be wrong to raise taxes and raise the fares,” Mr. Shaw said.

    David M. Catalfamo, a spokesman for Mr. Pataki, acknowledged that the governor favored keeping fares low. “But the M.T.A.,” he said, “is an independent authority responsible for its financial soundness, and they were always encouraged to take actions that were consistent with their needs.”

    The deal, finally completed in 2002 (though it’s commonly known as the 2000 restructuring), was hailed as the municipal deal of the year by several financial publications. In the short term, it led to savings and allowed the authority to take on more debt. The long-term effect, though, was to extend its existing debt, some of which would have been retired by 2015, until 2032 at a cost of a $1 billion a year.

    “I do remember lots of people, including me and including Marc, were anxious about what effect it would have, because it does delay the day of reckoning,” said Gary J. Dellaverson, the authority’s chief financial officer who was deputy executive director at the time.

    Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, a riders’ advocacy group, said the authority did have alternatives.

    “It could have borrowed smaller and more responsible amounts,” he said. “It could have told the governor, the mayor and the Legislature that it needed more money to keep its rebuilding program going.”

    Doug Turetsky, chief of staff of the Independent Budget Office, said the restructuring bought them a little time. The booming economy helped extend that time, even as the authority acquired more debt; its current outstanding debt is about $24 billion, double what it was before the restructuring, including money for the 2005-9 capital plan.

    “Without that extraordinary revenue, they could no longer cover the strain from the rising toll of debt,” Mr. Turetsky said.

    In the end, the percent of state and local subsidies for the 2000-4 capital plan totaled a staggeringly low 2 percent. By comparison, state and local subsidies pay for 19 percent of the current plan, including money from a voter-approved bond act in 2005.

    Mr. Shaw, who defends the restructuring, said that with the decline of the 1970s and before still seared in the memory of New Yorkers, the choice was clear: “We needed to protect the infrastructure and not have that happen again.”

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    SUBWAY BOSS: IT WON'T IMPROVE - New York Post
    SUBWAY BOSS: IT WON'T IMPROVE

    SEES NO LIGHT AT END OF TUNNEL FOR STATION ROT, GRIME

    By ANGELA MONTEFINISE and KATHIANNE BONIELLO

    Posted: 4:07 am
    August 3, 2008




    The head of New York City Transit acknowledges that less than a quarter of the Big Apple's subway stations are in acceptable condition - and says the agency is an "unbelievably long distance" from bringing the rest up to par, even with higher fares.

    "There's not anything out there that anybody is very proud of," NYC Transit President Howard Roberts Jr. told The Post in a wide-ranging interview about the fundamental problems plaguing the city's 468 subway stations as the agency slashes its budget and talks about raising fares twice more in the coming three years.

    A Post survey of dozens of stations found a decrepit, aging system fraught with overcrowded trains, crumbling platforms and stations, unfinished repair work, serious rat and cockroach infestations, mystery ooze dripping from ceilings and termite-eaten signs.

    Riders also related stories of a gross lack of communication as well as frequent misinformation within the system.

    Roberts' response: It's extremely bad, and it isn't going to get better any time soon.

    Roberts said the number of stations in good condition could be "as low as 100," far fewer than his agency's capital plan suggests.

    With the MTA reporting a steep decline in revenue, especially at bridges and tunnels, straphangers won't see any improvements. The two proposed fare hikes, Roberts said, would "only maintain the status quo."

    "For years, they slashed station cleaning, and they slashed station maintenance," Roberts said of his predecessors at NYC Transit, who he said were forced into the cuts.

    "It created issues."

    He said he has hired an extra 260 cleaners for successful pilot programs on the L and 7 lines.

    But even with the added employees and $118 million invested in cleaning stations, one cleaner is left to patrol five stations on average, Roberts said.

    To "move stations to a state of daily maintenance worthy of our riders," Roberts said, NYC Transit determined it would need 815 more $40,000-a-year cleaners. It also needs more than the 737 maintenance workers it employs.

    Meanwhile, budget woes forced the MTA to bump $2.7 billion worth of capital improvements, including several station-rehabilitation projects. And now platforms are inspected for disrepair every 72 hours instead of every other day, as they were a few years ago.

    "We're not doing as many rehabs, and we have very limited capacity to maintain and clean the stations we do have," he said. "We really do not have the funding to do a first-class job."

    MTA advisory-board member Andrew Albert's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee will release a report next week on the cleanliness of 50 randomly surveyed stations - the worst being the Bay 90th Street stop on the A line in Queens.

    "You really can't blame riders for being upset," Albert said.

    "When something looks decrepit, it looks like management doesn't care about their riders."

    Additional reporting by Jordan Edwards

    angela.montefinise@nypost.com

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    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/ny...l?ref=nyregion
    M.T.A. Shortfall Renews Talk of Congestion Pricing

    By RAY RIVERA
    Published: August 3, 2008


    Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times

    A panel led by Richard Ravitch, a former M.T.A. chairman, is to devise a plan to rescue the authority from its financial hole.


    The financial crisis at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is breathing new life into an idea the Legislature rejected just months ago: congestion pricing.

    Facing a projected $900 million budget shortfall next year, the authority has proposed increasing transit fares twice in the coming three years, and has asked the city and state governments to provide hundreds of millions in additional aid.

    But city and state officials, struggling with their own multibillion-dollar deficits, have urged the authority to cut its spending and find alternative sources of revenue. They have said they are counting on a commission led by Richard Ravitch, a former transportation authority chairman, to devise a plan to rescue the agency from its deepening financial hole.

    Enter congestion pricing. Asked in a recent interview how seriously the commission was considering elements of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s traffic revenue plan to provide money that could bail out the authority, Mr. Ravitch replied, “Very.”

    “I’m looking at a whole series of possible sources of revenue,” he said. “It would be inappropriate to comment on that except that I have said before publicly that we would certainly go down and look at congestion pricing, and every member of the commission knows it.”

    At the heart of the changing dynamic are the politics of transit fare increases. Assembly Democrats killed a scaled-down version of Mr. Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan in April when they refused to bring it to a floor vote, even though the plan would have made the transportation authority eligible for $360 million in federal assistance.

    That plan would have charged drivers $8 to enter a congestion zone in Manhattan south of 60th Street during peak hours. The revenues, projected to be more than $500 million annually, would have gone toward mass transit improvements.

    Now, the authority is proposing raising transit fares and bridge and tunnel tolls next year and again in early 2011 to help close huge shortfalls in its operating budget. It has said it may have to raise fares every two years after that to balance its books. In addition, the agency is facing a projected deficit of $15 billion to $20 billion in its forthcoming five-year capital plan. Transit riders are a powerful constituency, and given the strong political pressure to avoid, or at least minimize, fare hikes, proponents of congestion pricing are hopeful that Democrats in the State Assembly will be forced to reconsider it.

    Even some of the most ardent foes of congestion pricing acknowledge that the current problems seem to be reinvigorating the debate, though they wonder why that idea — and not other potential revenue sources — gets all the chatter.

    “Clearly I think that on many levels of the political class, this has support that other taxes, for example, the millionaires’ tax, doesn’t,” said Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat who was a leader in opposing the plan. He was referring to a Democratic proposal, opposed by Gov. David A. Paterson, to raise taxes on the wealthy.

    “It’s an issue of fundamental fairness,” Mr. Brodsky added. “The millionaires’ tax raises more revenue solely from the super rich. Yet the political class in New York City, the mayor’s office being the head of it, comes back with congestion pricing again.”

    Mayor Bloomberg has said that he sees no alternative. “Congestion pricing will come, in New York and lots of other cities, because it is the only way where you were going to do the two things that you need to do: reduce people driving and find money for mass transit,” the mayor told reporters at the National Conference of State Legislatures in New Orleans last week.

    “Unless the commission, which is actually made up of some very smart people, unless they can discover the fountain of youth, I think that that’s exactly what is going to come out of it,” Mr. Bloomberg added.

    The transportation authority’s deepening financial troubles, combined with those of the city and the state, have set up a particularly difficult choice for the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, whose constituents in Lower Manhattan would be hit by the fare increases.

    Mr. Silver never publicly came out against congestion pricing, but he yielded to legislators outside Manhattan and in the suburbs by not bringing it to the floor.

    Mr. Silver did strongly criticize the proposed transit increases last week, as did the mayor and the governor. But he declined to comment for this article except to say, through a spokesman, that he had “the highest regard for Richard Ravitch, and we await the recommendations.”

    Earlier this year, when the Assembly Democrats advanced the so-called millionaires’ tax, which would have added one percentage point to the income tax rate of New Yorkers making more than $1 million a year, they described it as a solution to the authority’s impending fiscal crisis. The Democrats estimated that the plan would provide more than $1.5 billion for mass transit and transportation projects.

    The proposal died in the face of opposition from the mayor, the governor and the Republican-controlled State Senate. And apart from a few grumblings from Mr. Silver and state Democrats, it has seldom been mentioned again.

    Assemblyman Rory I. Lancman, a Queens Democrat who opposed congestion pricing, said he would be surprised if the Ravitch commission proposed an idea that had been so roundly rejected by the Assembly. “If ever there was a dead horse that was flogged, flogged and flogged again, it was congestion pricing.”

    After all, he added, “I don’t think that when we rejected congestion pricing, we were unaware that the M.T.A. had financial problems.”

    In his and Mr. Brodsky’s view, congestion pricing would fall well short of rescuing the agency while burdening a narrow slice of mostly middle-class drivers from outside Manhattan.

    But stimulating the belief that it could re-emerge is the makeup of the Ravitch commission.

    Mr. Ravitch, who is expected to release a final report in December, was a known supporter of congestion pricing before being named to head the panel. The panel also includes Mark Page, the mayor’s budget director; Laura Anglin, the governor’s budget director; Elliot G. Sander, the authority’s executive director and a strong supporter of congestion pricing; Peter Goldmark, director of the Climate and Air program for the Environmental Defense Fund, a group that strongly backed the plan; and Douglas Durst, a major developer whose family foundation provided financial support to the congestion pricing campaign.

    Some analysts suggest that the Ravitch report, if it proposes congestion pricing, could provide a level of political cover to Assembly Democrats to support elements of the traffic plan, particularly if they do not have to vote on a plan until after the fall election. Mayor Bloomberg appeared to echo that view last week.

    “I think the politics of New York State are such that they will not do anything until after the election,” he said. “In fact, I believe the Ravitch commission was encouraged — I don’t know if they were told — but there’s an understanding they will be coming back, unfortunately, not before the next election.”

    Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler said that if a new effort to push the plan was undertaken in the near future, “the mechanism would have to be the Ravitch commission, because the administration isn’t going to mount another campaign for it.”

    Even if that happens, Mr. Brodsky, for one, said he didn’t believe it stood a better chance this time. “I think it goes nowhere,” he said.

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    MTA SUB-WEIGHS ALTERNATIVE - New York Post
    MTA SUB-WEIGHS ALTERNATIVE

    By PATRICK GALLAHUE

    Posted: 4:14 am
    August 1, 2008

    The MTA is going to study alternatives to station entrances for the Second Avenue Subway after Upper East Siders battled over a midblock gateway on 72nd Street.

    Residents complained, and several even sued, to stop the agency from opening large entrances on their residential street, arguing that it would eat up sidewalk space between First and Second avenues.

    The MTA said it would now study alternatives for the 72nd Street entrance.

    "Midblock entrances are not common in residential areas and will have a significant impact on pedestrian walking patterns, traffic flow and emergency vehicle access to their buildings," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan).

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